Golden Rule |
Gensler's Biking Trips
Pop quiz |
A transcontinental bicycle trip
My longest bicycle trip was in 1996 from Los Angeles to New York (and then to Scranton):
- General: I went alone and planned my own trip (which is cheaper and more adventuresome than going with an organized group). I bicycled 3632 miles in 36 days, averaging 101 miles per day and spending about 33 cents per mile.
- Typical day: I'd rise with the sun, make coffee and oatmeal on my camp stove, and hit the road at 7 am. I'd bike on US or state highways (not interstates), stopping sometimes to eat (often at a McDonalds, since the service was fast and I could watch my bike) or buy groceries or sightsee. About 5 pm, I'd hit a campground (or occasionally a motel). Then I'd cook macaroni and cheese, set up my tent, plan my next day, and climb into my sleeping bag.
- Load: I took camping equipment, clothes, tools, maps, food, and water. I went light and used only rear panniers and a rear racksack.
- Bicycle: I used an 18 speed 1991 Fuji touring bike with drop bars. The bike was well worn at the end, with almost 12,000 miles on it. During the trip, I had 8 flats and needed various new parts (a front axle, chain, rear cogs, right pedal, and 3 rear tires).
- Safety equipment: Helmet, mirror, flashing front and rear strobe lights.
- Why: I've always wanted to do this trip, but it was only in spring 1996 that I could fit it in. It was a vacation, an adventure (a physical and mental challenge), and a time for reflection (like a retreat - I used Mark Link's little Challenge 2000 book to start my meditations).
Parts of the trip
- Preparation: I biked about 1400 miles (including 8 rides of 100 miles each) around Chicago to help me get in shape. I also planned routes, campgrounds, and equipment - and reviewed notes from previous bicycle trips. In early May, I flew to Los Angeles - having shipped my bicycle a few days earlier by UPS.
- Desert: Los Angeles to central Utah was mostly barren, waterless, treeless desert - with a few ranches but almost no farms. The first 80 miles of Utah were particularly barren; it had no drinking water and not a single building of any sort, but only a few cattle on the road. I wasn't used to the heat; spring in Chicago had been cold. The desert sun burned my skin badly through the sunscreen. I had a strong tailwind but no rain in the desert.
- Mountains: The irrigated farmland of central Utah signaled the end of the pure desert. From here to central Colorado I had some spectacular mountain sections mixed with much high desert (with many trees, ranches, and irrigated farms). The weather was much cooler (sometimes below freezing at the higher elevation) but still dry and sunny. I often had rain at night but never during the day.
- Plains: Central Colorado was the sudden beginning of the great plains, which were sometimes rather hilly and which continued to eastern Ohio. This area was rich farmland and had more rain and bugs - and generally a strong headwind.
- Forest: Pennsylania was heavily forested (I saw more trees here than in the rest of the trip put together) and had steep assents and descents over small mountains. New Jersey started the same way, but with more farms; then it degenerated into an extension of New York City. After reaching the big apple, I headed back to Scranton.
Pop quiz - what do you do if ...? All these things happened to me.
Click here for the answers.
- Road closed: You see the orange sign that says "Road closed - bridge out ahead." The detour goes over a freeway (which you can't legally take) or is very long and doesn't go near suitable campgrounds. You can't find good alternative roads on your map. [This happened to me nine times; after a while the color orange would make me anxious.]
- Desert: You have a 280 mile stretch of desert ahead in which, to the best of your knowledge, there are no campgrounds and only one place where you can be sure of getting drinking water. You recall that you have to drink a pint of water per hour in the desert to survive.
- Rain and wind: You hit a five day stretch of bad weather, including cold temperatures, heavy rain (sometimes up to four inches in a few hours), and strong headwinds (so that you sometimes struggle to make 6 or 7 miles per hour in the lowest gear).
- Bike unridable: Your front wheel won't turn and ball bearings fall out of the axle as you try to fix it. You're out in the middle of nowhere and your bike is unridable.
- You can't wait: You have to take a leak, but there are houses all around and traffic is heavy.
- No shoulder: Your road has no shoulder but lots of enormous trucks.
- Freeway: The road you are taking suddenly becomes a freeway - with heavy traffic.
- Highest points: In Colorado, I went over the 10,276 feet Cameron Pass and the 9,426 foot Rabbit Ears Pass (the continental divide and a tough climb from Steamboat Springs). Both passes had lots of snow, but the road was clear.
- Most discouraging state: Nebraska - which had cold, rainy weather and strong headwinds.
- Worst rudeness: A young lady in central Pennsylvania stopped her truck in front of me, opened her back window, and yelled "Why donít you get your f***ing bicycle off the road, you a**hole!" This was the only verbal rudeness that I heard on the trip; I wonder if the young lady yelled the same thing to a local biker that she would have passed later. At the end of the day, in the same area, I got lost and met a very kind and helpful family.
- Friendliest people: The people of the great plains - from Nebraska to Ohio - were extraordinary friendly and helpful.
- Worst roads: Iowa (no paved shoulders) was the worst. Nevada (ribbed shoulders) came in second, and Ohio (broken pavement) third.
- Prettiest farms: Pennsylvania (the mountainous farms near Mansfield in the north central part of the state) and Iowa (rolling farmland with pretty farmhouses on wooded hills).
- Prettiest river: The Cache la Poudre River, which goes from a high Colorado pass to the eastern end of the Rockies. For a fun ride, have someone drive you up to the top and then coast down - but not on a weekend.
- Prettiest covered bridges: In Madison County, Iowa. I was at the same bridge where Clint Eastwood read the hand-written description.
- Longest day: I did 162 miles one day, going from the middle of Illinois to the middle of Indiana. The tailwind was so strong that I did 25 mph much of the day and could coast at 18 mph.
- Shortest day: In Nebraska, two days in a row I did only 65 miles and stopped early at a motel to recover from the cold rain and headwind. In Nevada, I did 67 miles one day because I wanted to stop for the night before the infamous "80 mile stretch" mentioned above.
- Most confusing day: Bicycling into New York City - trying to avoid dangerous roads that were really freeways (but not labeled as such) and trying to figure out how to cross the George Washington Bridge (which is easy to cross once you find out how). Some New York drivers are rude and give you only a few inches of clearance (much less than elsewhere).
Answers to the pop quiz
- Road closed: Improvise. If you can, get suggestions from local people, consult a more detailed map, or reason that what has worked for you in the past may work for you now. You might try to take the closed road (perhaps fording a stream or going through a muddy section with your bicycle), take alternative side roads (sometimes gravel), change your route to go by another campground, or even take the freeway (illegally).
- Desert: Talk with people about water sources, carry lots of water (I sometimes carried 2 gallons), keep drinking the water, and hope for the best. I met a 65 year old biker going the other way who told me about a couple of rest stops with water where you could camp (I stayed at both of them); he carried 3 gallons of water.
- Rain and wind: Keep pedaling (to keep warm), stop a little earlier (since you'll be exhausted from going against the wind), and stay at motels if you get too wet and cold. Don't get discouraged. This is the time that you most wonder if you are crazy for doing such a trip.
- Bike unridable: Several people stopped and asked if they could help; one man drove me to a bike shop that was open on Sunday - and my bike was fixed in about an hour. I met lots of friendly, helpful people on the trip; one bicycle mechanic even drove to the campground later to see how I was doing.
- You can't wait: Do the best you can; but do what you have to do.
- No shoulder: Ride about a foot from the edge of the pavement and keep steady (don't swerve) when the big trucks go by.
- Freeway: Ride on the shoulder, which is usually large and paved (although sometimes dirty). Be careful when you come to entrances and exits; these are awkward for bicycles. Pray that you don't have to exit to your next road from the left lane.
Other long bicycle trips that I've done
- 1981: Spokane WA to the Pacific and back (604 miles in 7 days, 86 miles/day).
- 1981: Spokane WA to Chicago (2479 miles in 23 days, 108 miles/day).
- 1982: Around Lake Michigan via New Orleans (3280 miles in 26 days, 126 miles/day).
- 1991: Chicago to Blue Ridge to Atlanta to Chicago (2884 miles in 31 days, 93 miles/day).
- 1992: Chicago to Labrador-Newfoundland (2283 miles in 23 days, 99 miles/day).